An Army ranger faces murder charges for allegedly beating and choking to death a recently hired security guard during a vicious attack caught on surveillance video in Washington.
Patrick Byrne, stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, was arraigned by video conference from his jail cell on Friday and a court-appointed attorney pleaded not guilty on his behalf.
Court documents obtained by local outlets show that Pierce County prosecutors have accused Byrne of first-degree murder for killing 41-year-old Denise Smith as she was on duty at a downtown Tacoma office building on Sunday. Her bloody, lifeless body was found on the floor by a co-worker at about 6 a.m. on July 18.
According to court documents, investigators said Smith had been beaten until she was unrecognizable and she was declared dead at the scene.
Police allege that witnesses told them Byrne had been punched in the face during a bar fight on Saturday night before he made his way to the office building where Smith worked. Officers learned that Byrne had been drinking that night then, at about 1 a.m. Sunday, he appeared at the doors of the office building and barged past Smith when she opened them, likely prompting her to ask him to leave, according to the court documents.
Investigators said that security camera footage then appeared to capture Byrne’s roughly ten-minute assault on Smith, who repeatedly tried to fight back and flee. Her efforts were futile.
Byrne repeatedly struck Smith with his fists, grabbed her braided hair and “dragged her around like a rag doll,” court documents state. Byrne also seized Smith’s keys and used them to stab her face before eventually choking her until she went limp, prosecutors allege.
“He repeatedly overpowered her, assaulted her, and threw her around by her hair braid,” the court documents state.
After leaving her severely beaten body, Byrne entered a conference room, smashed a window and began flinging around furniture, court documents say.
He then jumped or fell about 14 feet from a landing, according to the documents. Another security camera captured him lying on concrete.
Police said Byrne was taken to the hospital early Sunday, after a 911 call about a bloody man who was yelling for help near the site of the killing, according to KOMO-TV.
Byrne told a witness that he had been stabbed, but authorities say they found no evidence of stab wounds, KING-TV and others reported. Byrne also told a nurse that he’d been sexually assaulted, but declined to let doctors perform a related exam, the outlet said. Officers were reportedly told he was intoxicated and had a head injury.
Police allege Byrne was questioned at the hospital and told them he did not remember the attack and had blacked out after drinking at the bar, reported KING-TV.
According to Stars and Stripes, 26-year-old Byrne entered the Army in March 2019 as an infantryman. The following year, he completed the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program and was later assigned to Lewis-McChord, the outlet reported.
The U.S. Army issued a statement Friday describing the reports of Byrne’s alleged assault as “absolutely appalling.”
“The Tacoma Police Department has the full cooperation of the United States Army Special Operations Command,” the statement said. “Our deepest condolences to the families affected by this tragedy.”
Smith’s family described her to KING-TV as a sweet person who largely kept to herself, and said they’re left “devastated” by the brutal killing.
The Pierce County prosecutor’s office charged Byrne with murder, burglary and kidnapping. He was booked into Pierce County Jail on Thursday. Superior Court Judge Garold Johnson set his bail at $2 million.